The title of this column has been borrowed from the Internet journal of research, A Cave of Candles: The Story Behind the Notre Dame Grotto, which inspired the collection of Grotto Letters that became, Grotto Stores: From the Heart of Notre Dame. The Web address for all A Cave of Candles is http://classic.archives.nd.edu/corson/
From the forward in Grotto Stories, I have excerpted two paragraphs that give some background history on the Grotto, how and why it was built and what it means to the life at Notre Dame. It's by Rev. Daniel R. Jenky, C.S.C., Rector of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Father Basil Moreau, the founder of the Congregation of Holy Cross, and Father Edward Sorin, the founder of the University of Notre Dame, both visited Lourdes on several occasions and both firmly believed in the miraculous nature of Bernadette’s visions. In fact, the first organized pilgramage to Lourdes from outside of France was led by Holy Cross priest from the University of Notre Dame. The earliest known representation of Our Lady of Lourdes in the United States can be seen in the stained glass window in the west transept of Notre Dame’s Basilica of the Sacred Heart. It was always Father Sorin’s fond desire to build a replica of the Lourdes Grotto at Our Lady’s School. His dream was accomplished three years after his death when in 1896, Father Corby constructed and dedicated Notre Dame’s Grotto.
Almost everyone who visits Notre Dame spends at least some time at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes. For the last hundred years, nearly every student who has ever studied here has found the Grotto to be a place of welcome and prayer. Countless candles testify to the devotion of generations, all inspired by the loving witness of Mary. Here the Mother of Christ is deeply revered as the Blessed Mother of all those who believe in his Gospel and trust in the power of his grace. Hearts are comforted, lives are changed, and real miracles continue to happen. Faith is at the very heart of this University’s life and mission and the Grotto is at the very heart of Notre Dame.
The book Grotto Stories was a labor of love for two very talented, dedicated and inspiring women: Dorothy Corson and Mary Pat Dowling. For the story behind their book, please see HOW GROTTO STORIES CAME TO BE, below.
Here is this month's excerpt from Grotto Stories:
I am blessed to be a freshman at Saint Mary's College in the Grotto's centennial year. Were it not for this quietly glowing haven carved from a campus that already seems to have been dropped from heaven, I may not be here at all. I asked my dorm hostesses to take me to the Grotto when they walked me "across the street" during my first campus visit to Saint Mary's. It was one of those crackling sharp autumn nights in South Bend when the football season is brand new, careful note taking in classes hasn't yet degenerated into mid-semester scrawl, and expectations float on air like the leaves swirling in the lamplight. The tangible uniqueness of the place was slowly seeping into my heart. I hadn't expected it to. I was a senior in a high school that I very much regretted leaving, and doubts about abandoning my home for the past eighteen years crowded my mind. The Grotto gently cleared them. As my hostesses and I approached, our conversation fell away. Without a word, we approached the single iron railing, me pleasantly stunned at the idea of four Generation Xers pausing to pray. The cold iron bit into the sleeves of my windbreaker as I knelt, but all I felt in my soul was the warm presence of Our Lady. Tears blurred the flickering candles into a soft gold haze as I heard God whisper to my heart, "You have found a home." He was right. Two weeks later my application as a candidate for Early Decision to Saint Mary's was in the mail. Ten months later I had moved on campus and into the lives of some of the most fantastic people I have ever met. And now, whether fighting my way past the eight-alum-deep crowds for a rapid petition on mornings of football Saturdays, or kneeling for a Rosary with the whole blessed place to myself as the morning sun begins to light the Dome above it, the Grotto anchors my soul as I rejoice in my days as a member of the Saint Mary's/Notre Dame community.
Kudos to Father Sorin for giving generations a peaceful home for the collegiate heart!
MARY BETH ELLIS SMC CLASS OF 1999
NOTRE DAME, INDIANA
I am indebted in this project to the dedication, spirituality, and trust of Mrs. Dorothy Corson. Her four years of research into the history of the Grotto honors its centennial and the labors of her father, William Buckles, who built a replica of the Notre Dame Grotto on the grounds of St. Stanislaus Church in South Bend.
Dorothy and I see our own Grotto experience as something of a miracle. We first met when I worked in the Local History Room of the St. Joseph County Public Library. I was intrigued by the subject of her research and inspired by her perseverance.
In the fall of 1994, Dorothy brought her work to the attention of Elaine Cripe, editor of Alumni Publications, and asked if a request for personal stories relating to the Grotto could be placed in The ALUMNI Newsletter. Not long after hiring me as her assistant in March, Elaine gave me the assignment of writing the request for stories about the Grotto for the May 1995 issue of ALUMNI. I called Dorothy and said "You'll never guess where I'm working now and why I'm calling you." As the project evolved, Dorothy needed someone to adopt it. She says I was "planted in her path." Often when a question arose that seemed an obstacle in our path, Dorothy would say: "We'll just have to leave it up to Our Lady." During dry stretches in her research, Dorothy's prayer at the Grotto was: "Lady dressed in light, show me the way."
Rev. Thomas McAvoy, C.S.C., former University Archivist and historian once said: "To have a history is to have a name, and the richer the history the more glorious the name." The more Dorothy dug up the historical facts of the Grotto's first hundred years, the more she realized that it's the faith, the feelings, the stories of the people who visit there that is the true history and glory of the Grotto. And she wished for such stories to eventually accompany her manuscript in the University Archives. Here, I mingle the stories with some of Dorothy's findings from countless hours of perusing archival documents and unindexed campus publications.
On behalf of the readers who find inspiration in Grotto Stories, I thank the authors for their part in spreading the glory. I sensed great appreciation for the invitation to put their feelings into words. Months after writing her poignant Grotto remembrance, Mary Murphy said in a telephone conversation: "It was so good for me to reflect and make heads and tails of the experience." Expressing it in writing helped to make it a "learning moment," she said.
My life and the lives of those around me have certainly been enriched -not only in collecting the Grotto letters, but also by the personal notes that came later. Upon learning of the project many of the letter authors sent words of encouragement. Kathy Ferrone wrote: "Behind your work is another Mary. It was for her that the Grotto was built, so she will probably show the interest she has in your project in some amazing ways ...In your work, you are not alone. Expect many blessings as you watch things fall in place before you."
You were right, Kathy.
Thank you all.